Some Notes on Concussions

Tag: concussions

30Sep 2014
Uncategorized 78 comments

Some Notes on Concussions

To offer some perspective, I hope it might be helpful to relay the concussion protocol in my school district. Coaches are required by the state to take concussion awareness training prior to each and every season. The training includes medical explanations, symptoms to look for, actions to take, and protocol for allowing players to return. I am not qualified to diagnose a concussion, but sometimes it’s obvious. However, a large part of the obviousness is in that I know my players’ mannerisms, how they react to hard hits, where they look when returning to the huddle, how they walk, how quickly they move, etc. That is one advantage that I have when watching my own players. Any player who shows concussion-like symptoms is automatically sent to an athletic trainer for an evaluation. He is not allowed to return to practice unless the trainer determines that he does NOT have a concussion. The initial test – which I have been present for numerous times – typically includes questions about symptoms, some long-term questions (Who’s the president? When’s your birthday? What’s the date today?), some short-term questions (repeat this sequence of numbers or items to me), and an examination of eye dilation/focus (How many fingers am I holding up? Can you follow my fingertip with your eyes?).

I watched the game on television, and the fact that Shane Morris was still in the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter was extremely frustrating. Not only was he ineffective, but in the middle of being ineffective, he sprained his ankle. And not only did he sprain the ankle in the middle of being ineffective, but Michigan also had a better option waiting on the sideline the whole time in the form of Devin Gardner. When Morris originally took the hit from Minnesota defensive end Theiren Cockran, I said, “And now our quarterback just got killed.” Upon a closeup review of the play, however, I noticed a couple things. First of all, the initial force of Cockran’s helmet hit the bottom bar of Morris’s facemask, which snapped his neck back. Secondly, the majority of the blow seemed to be taken by Morris’s upper left chest area. Is it possible that a concussion occurred from the blow to the helmet? Yes. Is it also possible that a concussion could occur from a hit to the chest/shoulder? Absolutely. Not all concussions require a hit to the head. Knowing that Morris had a bum ankle, his stumble into Ben Braden did not necessarily indicate to me that he had a concussion. Furthermore, the deep breath of air taken and released by Morris on camera did not seem consistent with concussions I have seen. I have seen concussions that ended high school seasons and careers, and breathing deeply is not something I associate with the injury. That looked more to me like a guy who may have had the wind knocked out of him and was trying to gather his breathing back together. When Morris finally retreated to the sideline, his behavior while sitting on the bench and being examined also did not indicate to me that he had a concussion. Again, people react differently, and I am unqualified to play doctor from my living room, but I’m just comparing it to what I have seen in my daily life.

I believe much of the heat he has taken has been unwarranted. First, we have seen his staff remove players for various injuries in the past, such as Taylor Lewan last season. Numerous players have missed time due to injuries of all kinds, and I have never seen or heard him challenge players to man up or play through injury. Just this season, players like Devin Funchess, Jarrod Wilson, Jabrill Peppers, and Raymon Taylor have missed significant time with injuries. Despite a strong need for Jake Ryan and Jake Butt, the Michigan staff has held to their plan of working them slowly back into games by using a predetermined number of snaps. Second, what would Hoke gain by keeping Morris in the game despite injury? Morris is not the best quarterback on the roster, and he had been playing terribly. Literally every other player listed above is/was more valuable to this team than Shane Morris is this season, so it’s nonsensical to believe that Hoke would put Morris in serious harm’s way while being cautious with Peppers, Butt, Ryan, etc. Third, this overwhelming vitriol directed toward Hoke does not support what we have seen on a regular basis from him. While many have questioned his ability to coach the sport of football, it has been widely acknowledged that he’s a man of high character who cares about his players. What sense would there be in risking his players and his reputation in order to keep his backup quarterback in the football game at that point? Fourth, this whole discussion would not have reached such huge proportions if not for Michigan’s current record. If Michigan were 5-0 or 4-1, Michigan fans would have let this incident slide already. It would have been a footnote or a follow-up question at a press conference or maybe an issue that would die soon. In its current state of disarray (a 2-3 record, a paltry offensive output, a quarterback controversy, dwindling attendance, etc.), the Michigan program has invited widespread criticism. But with issues like this, I think it’s important to think about “What would this look like if Michigan were winning?” and then calibrate accordingly.

I say that’s hogwash. It absolutely does matter. As I mentioned above, coaches know their players. Just like you know your coworkers and your mom and your son and your wife, coaches spend hours upon hours with their players in very difficult situations. I could tell by the way my dad walked in the door whether he had a good day or not. I can tell by watching my players if they have a slight hamstring pull. When they walk in the locker room, I can sometimes tell which player it is just by the sound of their footsteps. There were numerous players and coaches watching the game, and whether the two main guys (Hoke and Doug Nussmeier) saw his behavior or not, some people thought Morris was okay to continue. When Morris came to the sideline for a short stretch, he was still deemed ready to return for an “emergency” play when Gardner had to be removed. Fans and people watching on television thought he was concussed, but the people who know him best – the people on the sideline – thought Morris was okay to go. If the as yet unreleased medical results show that Morris was indeed lacking a concussion, then there are some people who owe Hoke an apology. According to Monday’s press conference, Morris would have practiced on Sunday if not for the ankle injury. That indicates that his head is not a hindrance to him playing at this time.
UPDATE: Dave Brandon released a statement revealing that Morris was evaluated during and immediately after the game, and no concussion was detected. A third test has determined that he indeed has a mild concussion. So it took three tests for medical professionals to determine that he had a concussion.

At this point there are too many people shooting first and asking questions later. People are smearing Hoke’s reputation and/or pleading for his firing when there’s at least a decent chance that what he did was completely fine. However, I do believe Michigan has mishandled the press up to this point. Athletic director Dave Brandon has failed to step forward with any authoritative take on the situation, and Hoke himself has been evasive. The easiest way to handle this would have been to release a statement saying “Shane Morris does not have a concussion.” Whether Michigan is trying to stick to its own policy about discussing injuries, trying not to violate HIPAA laws, or simply misjudging the public response, they are losing in the court of public opinion. The University of Michigan’s response has been subpar. As for Hoke himself, perhaps he should be fired. Michigan’s win total has been declining from 2011-2013, and it does not appear they will improve on their 7-6 record from last year. The offense is inadequate. Special teams and overall player development have been questionable. If you want to say that a 9-9 record over the last 18 games is unacceptable, that’s someone’s prerogative. I can’t make a good case for Hoke remaining at this point, even though I’m not exactly in favor of firing him right this moment. But I also believe the Shane Morris incident should not be the deciding factor, especially if Morris is not concussed.